Pastoral Leadership, Part 6: Competence

I have the joy of teaching in our Doctor of Ministry Program at Southeastern Seminary. It is an outstanding program of study with majors in Expository Preaching, Leadership, Biblical Counseling, Faith and Culture, and Missions, Evangelism and Church Growth. You can learn more about the program by going here or by phone at 919-761-2216.

Recently, I received a very fine paper from one of my students on “Leadership in the Local Church.” The author is a pastor of a very prominent church in the Southern Baptist Convention who is leading it through a time of transition following a long tenured pastor. The focus of his paper was on how to lead a local congregation through a time of transition without blowing up the place. As many of us know this is easier said than done.

With his permission I will share in several blog entries an edited version of his paper. There is real wisdom in what you will read. For obvious reasons the particular church and the pastor’s identity will not be disclosed.

Pastoral Leadership, Part 6: Competence

The sixth principle that must characterize the leader in transition is competence. In Leith Anderson’s book, Leadership That Works, he includes a chapter called, “Expectation-The Rules Are Changing.” One of the changes he discusses is a shift from the old rule that said, “faithfulness is sufficient.” The new rule is “effectiveness is required.” Anderson states, “This is not to say that an earlier generation rewarded incompetence, nor that today’s leaders need not be faithful. It is to say that the pendulum has swung toward an expectation that leaders will not only show up but also know what to do when they get there and get it done before they leave. If they are ineffective, they are more likely to be terminated than they would have been a generation earlier” (119). While Anderson speaks to the issue within the church organization; it should not surprise us that the secular environment shares a similar concern. In The Leadership Challenge by James Kouzes and Barry Posner, their extensive survey work revealed that of the top four things people look for and admire in leaders, one of those top four was competence. They defined leadership competence as the leader’s track record and ability to get things done. They go on to point out that, “it is highly unlikely a leader can succeed without both relevant experience and, most important, exceptionally good people skills (underlining ours). The most important competency a leader brings to the role is the ability to work well with others” (30). Therefore, it is clear that a principle that must guide each leader is the trait of being competent. So, how does a new leader move into a situation and demonstrate competence? There are two critical aspects. The first is to know your own strengths and weaknesses. The second is to observe and learn the other team member’s strengths and weaknesses.

Peter Drucker, in his work, The Effective Executive, writes: “The effective executive makes strength productive. He knows that one cannot build on weakness. To achieve results, one has to use all the available strengths-the strengths of associates, the strengths of the superior, and one’s own strengths” (71). This truth becomes extremely critical when it comes to building a team of leaders to work with you. As the new pastor begins to consider people for his team, it is important to know the areas where he may have weaknesses. Finding individuals to be part of the team who possess different gifts and different strengths than that which the pastor possesses enables there to be a team that is well balanced and well positioned to minister effectively across a broad spectrum of all types of people which make up most congregations.

The second aspect of this competence is to know your team and be able to help guide and lead them. Drucker again writes: “The effective executive focuses on contribution. He looks up from his work and outward toward goals. He asks: ‘What can I contribute that will significantly affect the performance and the results of the institution I serve?’ His stress is on responsibility” (Ibid). As the new leader recognizes the strengths and weaknesses of all the members of his leadership team he is able to know who and what needs attention. Oftentimes, it is this individual time of leadership development that produces the greatest fruit in ministry. If there is ever a time and place where we must move beyond “turfism” and build a true attitude of teamwork it must be in the staff and leadership of the local New Testament church. This is the whole emphasis of Paul when describing spiritual gifts, and all members working to build up the body (Eph. 4:1-16). Working well with people and investing in them is paramount to the new leader in transition.

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